IT HAS become conventional wisdom to write off the State Duma
ineffectual at best and obstructionist at
worst. After all, the lower house of parliament is weak vis-a-vis
Kremlin, dominated by Communists and its
sessions often resemble a theater of the absurd.
But one of the brightest spots on the St. Petersburg political
actually been the city's Duma delegation.
Consider Alexander Shishlov, a first-term lawmaker from Grigory
Yavlinsky's Yabloko party.
Shishlov has a habit of noticing when public officials play loose
fast with public trust. He then uses his good
offices to make them behave.
Last fall Shishlov had a suspicion that there was something strange
the way that former mayor Anatoly
Sobchak's City Hall was handing out state-owned apartments at
After looking into the matter, Shishlov unveiled documents from
city's housing fund revealing that Sobchak
sold off more than 100 state owned apartments at cut-rate prices,
including many to political cronies, local
newspaper editors and pop music stars. Shishlov estimated that
apartment sales cost the city $2 million in lost
Sobchak has defended his fire-sale as legal, citing a decree
signed by himself that gave him sole
discretion over the fate of city-owned real-estate while in office.
Meanwhile, due to an alleged "housing crisis," more
than a million city
residents on decade-long waiting lists for
housing are languishing in decrepit communal flats or dormitories.
Late last year, the Legislative Assembly passed a law - sponsored
Shishlov - regulating the sale of state
apartments and mandating that City Hall state publicly to whom
selling to and for what reason.
This fall, Shishlov was at it again, discovering that Fund 2004,
organization created to push the city's failed
Olympic bid, was trying to divert 64 billion rubles in federal
earmarked for city improvements for its own
purposes. Largely thanks to his work this misappropriation was
Shishlov is also super-attentive to St. Petersburg's needs when
legislation hits the floor of the Duma, working
closely with local lawmakers. I've lost count of the times I have
the phrase: "Shishlov's amendment will help
the city if it is passed."
And while he goes about his business without a lot of noise and
he usually gets results.
Such work by a lawmaker is an example of representative democracy
best. It also shows that the Duma can
be an important engine of democracy when its members put their
constituents' interests first.